Author Spotlight: Marisa Aragón Ware

For today’s Author Spotlight, I am chatting with author, illustrator, and fine artist Marisa Aragón Ware about her debut picture book, Bodhi Sees The World: Thailand. This wonderful picture book follows a young girl as she travels to Thailand and experiences the world through a new culture.

Marissa, thank you so much for joining me today! I’m so excited to talk to you about Bodhi Sees The World. But before we get into it, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My love for art and my love for nature have always been interwoven, and both were sparked early in my life. Having been born and raised in Colorado, I garnered a deep appreciation of the natural world from a childhood spent enveloped in the forests of the Rocky Mountains. My family lived in a house close to miles upon miles of hiking trails, and our expansive backyard was a world of magic unto itself. I played out amidst the rocks and trees and painted wildflowers on the back deck for hours during the summer, and my mother always made sure I had art supplies on hand. My father is a scientist and he taught me the names of plants and how to gently catch and release snakes in the garden. In this way, I cultivated a sense of awe and appreciation for the world around me, and I learned how to pay attention and notice the endlessly fascinating details of nature.

These formative experiences heavily influence my work to this day, and I strive to depict the beauty of the natural world to help others connect with its abundant primordial magic. My work often explores the ephemeral and impermanent nature of life as well as the cyclical nature of death and rebirth. I work in a variety of mediums, including pen and ink, paper sculpture, and digital media, but I also occasionally work as a tattoo artist as well. I wear a lot of different hats in my career as a professional artist— I exhibit my work as a fine artist in galleries across the country, I freelance as a commercial illustrator, I write and illustrate children’s books, and I am also a professor teaching art and illustration. I even competed on (and won!) a reality tv show called “Meet Your Makers” on Discovery Plus in 2021. 

When I’m not working, these days I like to spend my free time teaching myself to play piano, learning French, going for runs in the woods with my dog, taking care of my multitude of house plants, and cooking and eating delicious vegan food. 

What inspired you to write about Thailand specifically?

The inspiration to write about Thailand was multilayered. I knew I wanted to write about a country that is primarily Buddhist because I wanted to share the teachings of the dharma with the young people of this world. Lessons about loving-kindness, compassion, generosity, and open-heartedness are so important for all of us, and they can be taught in such simple and accessible ways. A person is never too young or too old to have these teachings touch their heart and open their mind.

When thinking about what countries I could write about, I thought back to a month-long trip I took to Thailand in my early twenties. I traveled from the very southern tip of the country to the northernmost region, and stopped at Bangkok in between. I got to see the Emerald Buddha, the Royal Palace, the floating market, and many of the other sites that I wrote about in the book. I was so touched by the friendliness and warmth of the Thai people, and I’ll never forget the incredible flavors of the food there. Inspired by these memories, I began to explore the idea of writing about Thailand, and then the story began to take shape. 

Title: Bodhi Sees The World: Thailand
Author/Illustrator: Marisa Aragón Ware
Publisher: Bala Kids
Published: September 21, 2021
Format: Picture Book

What was the research process like for writing Bodhi See The World?

I did a lot of research about Thailand because my editors and I wanted this book to be very educational. I was extremely fortunate to have three friends help me in this process. Prang, who is from Thailand but now lives in Colorado, helped me immensely with generating ideas about where Bodhi could visit and the important aspects of Thai culture to try and communicate through the story. Min and Alan, two friends who live in Bangkok (Min is Thai and Alan is an ex-pat American) proofread the book many times and helped me with all of the translations. Without Prang, Alan, and Min, I wouldn’t have been able to have all of the Thai writing found throughout the book, so I am very grateful to them for their help.

I love the illustrations. Can you talk about the medium/techniques you use to create the images?

The illustrations were done entirely digitally, on my iPad Pro with an app called Procreate. It’s a really wonderful and versatile app. I took inspiration from illustrator Steph Fizer Coleman, who also works a lot in Procreate. I try to have my digital work still have a hand-drawn feel, so I use a lot of different textures to add to the visual richness of the imagery. 

As an artist, you work with pen and ink, digital mediums, sculpture, and even tattoos. Do you ever find that your work with one medium impacts or affects your projects in another?

The mediums and styles I work in are all so distinct and different from each other that there’s not a lot of crossover, although I would say that what remains consistent throughout is my obsession with detail and precision. I would love to be the type of artist who paints with loose, bold strokes and makes expressive non-representational paintings, but my natural inclination is towards tiny details and the pursuit of perfection, whatever that might be. 

What’s next for Bodhi? Can we expect to see her explore other countries?

I would love for Bodhi to have more adventures! I really enjoyed making this first book, and I learned so much about Thailand, that it would be lovely if there was a second and maybe even third. We’ll see!

And how about for yourself? Do you have any exciting projects coming up? 

At the moment, I am putting most of my time into teaching, which is very exciting in its own way. I really love mentoring young artists, and I get so much inspiration from their enthusiasm. Later this year I am taking a break from being a professor, and am going to focus my time on creating work for fine art galleries. I have many ideas that I want to explore, which include making wearable paper sculptures and integrating more technology, like laser cutting and 3D printing, into my fine art production. 

Anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

If you enjoyed Bodhi, my publisher, Bala Kids, has so many more wonderful books! Some of my favorites include “Afraid of the Light,” and “I Am Thinking My Life.” You can order them straight from the publisher or on Amazon (or check with your local bookstore).


To learn more about Marisa and her work, visit her website at www.marisaware.com.

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Author Spolight: Jamie Hogan

It’s time for another Author Spotlight! Today I am talking with author-illustrator Jamie Hogan about her latest picture book, Skywatcher. So without futher ado, let’s dive right in!

Jamie, I’m so excited to have you here! Before we talk about Skywatcher, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author and illustrator?

I grew up drawing all the time, and went to art school to study illustration at Rhode Island School of Design. I began my freelance career in Boston, doing editorial illustrations for the Boston Globe and local magazines. It was years later that I moved to Maine and became a parent. Reading children’s books to my daughter sparked my interest in that area of publishing. I wrote my first picture book, SEVEN DAYS OF DAISY, inspired by her antics. I began illustrating for other authors while also teaching part time at Maine College of Art. 

Skywatcher is your most recent picture book, and it is absolutely gorgeous! Can you tell readers a little bit about it?

SKYWATCHER is the story of a young boy who wants to see the stars, but the city lights obscure them. He travels with his mother to a place where they see the Milky Way.

What inspired you to write Skywatcher?

I had been working on illustrations for a poem about how the Milky Way formed and my radar was up around that. I noticed an article in the local newspaper about Maine state parks trying to get dark sky status. I knew little about light pollution or why dark skies are important and began to do research. We’re all so tethered to devices now, does anyone notice or care that the stars are hidden? 

Title: Skywatcher
Author/Illustrator: Jamie Hogan
Publisher: Tillbury House
Published: October 5, 2022
Format: Picture Book

The night sky is such a magical thing, especially for children. Have you always been passionate about astronomy and astrology?

I have been curious about both astronomy and astrology thanks to my contributions to the Lunar Calendar published in Boston by the Luna Press. It is a comprehensive calendar of moon phases (astronomy) and their place in the astrological cycles. I still have plenty to learn but I find it fascinating and affirmative to pay attention to the moon and it’s pull on our rhythms.

What was the research process like for writing Skywatcher? Did you get to do lots of star gazing?

Yes! We visited Acadia and also Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, both places that had sought dark sky status at the time I was developing my book idea. By the time SKYWATCHER was published, the International Dark Sky Association had designated the 100 Mile Wilderness as the Northeast’s first Dark Sky Preserve, an area owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club and In the same vicinity. But otherwise, I make a point of going outside every night into my yard, to check on the stars. I live on an island three miles out to sea, and can see plenty, but the Milky Way is not that visible because of light pollution from Portland.

The illustrations in Skywatcher are absolutely stunning. Can you tell us about the mediums/techniques you used?

Thank you! I did black and white line drawings in black Prismacolor pencil and scanned them. I used chalk color pastels on sanded paper for vivid backgrounds with texture. I merged these in Photoshop, along with the stars I drew in digitally.

As someone who writes picture books, but has zero artistic skill, I’m always fascinated by author/illustrators’ process. Do you come up with the story first, or the images? Or is it all just simultaneous?

I think visually first. The whole book was about the light we live in. I drew thumbnail scenes in a storyboard, so I could see it all on a single page, how the focus will move from page to page, like a short film. I began to write the story as the visuals took shape, but it’s important that the illustrations show something beyond the words and vice versa.

I love that Skywatcher has so much information in the back matter. I think it blends fiction and nonfiction in a way that really sticks with readers. Have you visited any of the Dark Sky Preserves listed in the backmatter? If so, which was your favorite?

Thanks, I found I had way more information than could fit into the story! I have not visited any preserves other than going to Katahdin before that area was officially designated. But it’s my goal to go out to the Southwest, where the dark skies are legendary. Being in the presence of the Milky Way is a humbling and magical experience. Everyone should seek that out, feeling a connection to our universe.

What can we expect from you next? Are there any more releases in the near future?

While I was developing the book, an astronaut from Maine was on the International Space Station, Jessica Meir. I drew her on the cover of Tamen’s comic, Skywatcher, and have been developing a picture book bio about her. Stay tuned on that! Meanwhile, I am working on a picture book written by Jennifer Jacobson, OH, CHICKADEE which will be published by McSea Books in 2023. 

Anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

I feel truly grateful to be making books for children. As a parent, that chapter of reading books together is a treasured one, and remains a formative source of inspiration about how to spark the imagination of a child learning about the world. I am drawn to nature themes and feel strongly about connecting to the wilderness within us. A picture book can be a spring board to other books about the same topic or new themes that a child wants to follow. Everyone can learn from storytelling. Thanks so much for asking these questions, and shining a light on my book. May we all keep looking up!

Thank you so much for answering all my questions today, Jamie! It was wonderful having you!


To learn more about Jamie and her work please visit her website at jamiehogan.com.

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Author Spotlight: Kirsten W. Larson

It’s time for another Author Spotlight, and today I’m excited to be chatting with Kirsten W. Larson about her most recent picture book, A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything.

Hi Kirsten, Thank you so much for joining us today! I’m so excited to chat with you about A True Wonder, but before we dive in would you mind telling us a bit about yourself, and your path to becoming an author?

Hi Devyn! Thank you so much for having me. 

I started my writing career in journalism before moving to public relations for NASA. When my little ones gobbled up children’s nonfiction at our public library, I realized that I could write those books and would have a blast doing it. I studied the craft of nonfiction writing, wrote pieces for children’s magazines and books for nonfiction for publishers like Capstone. All the while, I worked on my own stories and searched for a literary agent.

A True Wonder is your second picture book, I believe. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

I like to think of A TRUE WONDER as a biography of the comic book character, Wonder Woman – how she was created, her trials and tribulations over 80 years, and how she’s come to mean so much to her many fans around the world.

What was the research process like for this book? How did you prepare to write a picture book biography of a fictional character?

It was really fun, actually. I got to read a lot of early Wonder Woman comic books as well as comic book histories. I also visited the archives of her creator, William Moulton Marston, at Harvard. And of course, I had to watch the Wonder Woman movie and Lynda Carter TV series again.

Title: A True Wonder: The Comic Book Kero Who Changed Everything
Author: Kirsten W. Larson
Illustrator: Katy Wu
Publisher: Clarion Books
Published: August 25, 2021
Format: Picture Book

What inspired you to write about Wonder Woman? 

My sister and I were big fans as kids. There’s a picture of us in the back matter in our Wonder Woman Underoos with homemade paper tiaras and bracelets. When the first Wonder Woman movie came out, I was stuck by how watching the movie together with sisters and gal pals was so important. And then I thought about that phrase – Wonder Woman – and how we use it in everyday life to signal female strength and power. I thought there was an important book there.

I have to admit, I found comics and graphic novels later in life (as I think plenty of women my age did) but I found Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman so incredibly inspiring. And it’s equally inspiring to learn about the women who paved the way for Wonder Woman to exist, and created space in the industry for women who are creating today. Do you have any favorite current comic books or graphic novels by female creators?

On the superhero side, G. Willow Wilson’s Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel comics and Vita Ayala and Stephanie Williams’s Nubia (from the Wonder Woman universe) rock. I’m also drawn to real-life superheroes like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You can read about her in the graphic novel, BECOMING RBG by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Whitney Gardner. Also Vera Brosgol’s BE PREPARED, a memoir of her childhood, is so fun.

Katy Wu’s panel illustrations are fantastic, and they capture the comic book atmosphere perfectly. Was this part of your original vision for this book, or Did the two of you get to collaborate much during the process?

I suggested a comic book-style illustration for the book, and fortunately, my editor, Jennifer Greene, had the same vision and had the foresight to get Katy on board. Katy and I didn’t really collaborate, which is very typical in picture books. I reviewed some early sketches for historical accuracy, but when I first saw the full-color illustrations, they took my breath away! I always love the moment when a book truly comes together.

If young readers only take one thing away from A True Wonder, what do you want them to learn?

I want them to realize that heroes come in many forms, and that kids have the power to be heroes and create positive change in the world.

Would you say that your previous career at NASA impacts your writing today?

Working at NASA, I learned how to research and write about complicated topics for everyday people, which was helpful experience. With almost every book, I’m researching something new to me and trying to figure out how to make it accessible and understandable for young people. 

What’s next for you? Do you have any releases coming up this year?

I have two books to look forward to in 2023, both about real-live heroes. THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle Books) is a picture book about astrophysicist Cecilia Payne. And the graphic novel, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Roaring Brook), is the story of French curator Rose Valland who spied on the Nazis during World War II and helped save more than 60,000 art treasures seized from French Jews.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

Parents and educators will find educational resources for my books on my website: kirsten-w-larson.com, and I love to interact with readers on Instagram and Twitter @kirstenwlarson.

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Author Spolight: Terry Catasús Jennings

It’s time for another Author Spotlight, and I am so excited to be chatting with Terry Catasús Jennings about her Definitely Dominguita series! You may remember that I raved about the series back when I originally discovered it last year, and I’m excited to inform you that there are more adventures for Dom and her crew! So without further ado, I’ll let Terry tell us all about it.

Terry, thank you so much for agreeing to answer all my questions! I’m excited to chat about the most recent titles, but before we dive in, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Devyn, I am delighted to be here at Mutually Inclusive. Thank you for having me.

The long and the short of me is that I am a Cuban -American children’s writer. I came to the United States not long after the Bay of Pigs Invasion—my father was jailed for three days during that invasion, so our family felt that we were no longer safe in Cuba. So we arrived on September 11, 1961 with $50 for our whole family. I was enrolled and attending seventh grade the next day—without knowing any useful English. At first we lived with two of our uncles (one at a time) because we had nothing, including no job for my dad, and then eventually we moved to Richmond, Virginia, where I grew up. I wanted to be a writer since I was in third or fourth grade, I was a voracious reader. But in a creative writing class my teacher accused me of using the Thesaurus, imagine! She said I was using it to make my writing sound better because there was no way a Cuban kid could know the words I had used in my story on my own. Saying that I got ticked off would be to soft peddle what I felt. I got out of her class and decided I would major in math because I loved my math teacher. You know, she just caught me on the wrong day/ week of my teenage life and it’s a shame because I really shouldn’t have reacted that way. I actually ended up working in finance until I had kids and then I quit work because I didn’t have good options for day care. Remember, that was a million years ago. But stories continued to roll around in my head and when my daughter was fifteen, I wrote an essay about teaching her to drive and The Washington Post bought it immediately. I thought I was headed for the Pulitzer Prize In no time, right? Of course, it was a long slog. And I still don’t have that prize. I have done a lot of work for hire, written a lot of educational text (even for the Smithsonian) and finally the Definitely Dominguita Series landed me with a major publisher and I couldn’t be happier.

I recently read the two newest Definitely Dominguita titles, All for One and Sherlock Dom, and I just love this series! Can you tell us a bit about Dom and the series itself? 

The series is about a Cuban-American third grader who has modern day adventures while pretending to be characters in. the classics her Abuela read to her as bed time stories. She is a spunky, resolute girl who has never really needed friends—she spends her time reading, and that is enough. Of course, you can guess that Dom will find friends and friendship and the threesome she makes is perfect. Pancho is another Cuban-American kid who loves to read and knows all sorts of things nobody else knows, Steph is a US-American girl who lives with her grandmother and is home schooled—Pancho and Dom accept her without question. They don’t hold the fact that she’s US-American against her at all (I hope you’re laughing here). The adventures that they have are normal third-grade kid adventures, and they are funny. All for One is inspired by The Three Musketeers and our heroes use chocolate covered toilet plungers as weapons to prevent the dastardly Bublassi brothers from ruining a quinceañera party. Sherlock Dom, as you can imagine, is about solving a mystery. The kids find the lost goat of Tapperville, a story which you can say resembles The Hound of the Baskervilles if you are generous. 

What inspired you to start this series?

You know, my father was a great fan of Don Quijote, a fifteenth century man who one day decided that he would be a knight. Don Quijote never reached his goal. Whenever I do something that I know I have very little chance of success, like getting rid of the weeds in my yard, I think of Don Quijote. One day I was weeding, and a boy showed up in my head dressed in a cape and told me his name was Dom Capote, the Knight of the Cape. Don Capote/Don Quijote, that was a sign, right? I had to write a story about this Don Capote. But there was a problem. It had to be a girl. There are so many more obstacles that a girl would need to overcome to become a knight than a boy. I had to finagle a way to make the character still be Don Capote, or something close and that’s where the name Dominguita came from. One of my second cousins is named Dominguito, so I jumped on that and had her brother give her a cape from the army/navy surplus trash pile, and there you have it. She became Dom del Capote, Dom of the Cape, Dom Capote for short. It worked!

Title: All For One (Definitely Dominguita)
Author: Terry Catasús Jennings
Illustrator: Fatima Anaya
Published: August 17, 2021
Publisher: Aladdin
Format: Chapter Book

If young readers only walk away from the series with one lesson, what would you want it to be?

I would want young readers to realize that Cuban-American kids are just like them—they love the same things, get upset at the same things—and it’s not just Cuban American kids, it’s anyone who is from another country, or has different preferences and abilities than they do. I hope they will always extend a hand of friendship whenever they meet. Also, if they come to try some Cuban food because of my books, I would be over the moon. It is so yum and everyone should try it.

I love Dom’s love of classic literature! Were the books that have inspired Dom and her friend’s adventures books that inspired you personally? 

Absolutely. I read incessantly as a child. And even though I had friends, I still was perfectly fine being alone, like Dom, because I had my books. There was a series of books, they were yellow—kids’ versions of the classics and they were sold at a newsstand, close to my house. Now, my father very early he started me on an allowance. The only strings attached were that I write down how I spent my money on a green sheet of accountant’s paper. Well, every month, I spent all my money at the bookstore and killed two birds with one stone. I got my books, and I only had to make one entry a month. I read all of Robert Louis Stevenson, all of Jules Verne, all of Louisa May Alcott, all of Dumas, Most of them were kids’ versions of the classics, but they weren’t real easy. I’m sure they came from Spain. They were all a couple of hundred pages. 

Title: Sherlock Dom (Definitely Dominguita)
Author: Terry Catasús Jennings
Illustrator: Fatima Anaya
Published: November 16, 2021
Publisher: Aladdin
Format: Chapter Book

If you could spend the day with one character from the series, who would you choose and why?

I love Abuela. She is such a perfect mentor to Dom. She is soft, yet wise. She takes Dom seriously. She is able to make Dom see her situation from all sides, and make the right decision. Abuela is driven by honor, much like my father was. I would like to learn from her so that I can be a good grandmother to my grands. But I tell you what, I love all the characters. It is a great community.

What’s next for Dom and her friends? Will we see any more books in this series?

I sure hope so. I am dying to get back into that story and spend lots of time again with all my Dominguita friends. My agent has submitted three really good and fleshed out ideas to Simon and Schuster, and they are thinking about it. At least they haven’t said no, yet.  So cross fingers and toes, they will decide to publish more.  The Knight of the Cape did really, really well, it was Best Books of 2021 for School Library Journal, and Kirkus, and Parents Latina and it was also a Nerdie, so I am really hopeful. Actually, both All for One and Sherlock Dom were just made into audio books, and the boxed set of all four books will be coming out in mid March if the shipping gods allow. 

You have two books releasing this year as well, is that right? Can you tell us a bit about them?  

Thank you for asking that, Devyn. Pauli Murray: The Life of a Pioneering Feminist and Civil Rights Activist is a biography in verse which I was very fortunate to co-author with Pauli Murray’s niece. It is coming out on February 8 from Little Bee Books. I “met” Pauli Murray in 2012 when I wrote The Women’s Movement: 1960-1990 from Mason Crest. She was a pivotal force in the women’s movement, yet no one knew about her. I wanted to write a book about her role in the women’s movement, but as I read about her, I found that she was as important for the civil rights movement. She conceptualized the arguments that won Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, desegregated schools, and eventually brought down Jim Crow, but she didn’t get any credit because she was a woman. I want to write that wrong and make sure everyone knows about Pauli Murray. The book is appropriate for fourth grade and up. 

The other book is The Little House of Hope / La casita de esperanza. It is a picture book from Neal Porter Holiday House and it is illustrated by the award winning Raúl Colón! I am so excited for this little book to be out in the world. The illustrations are breathtaking, but more importantly, this book is part of my own story.  It is about a family of immigrants who meet other immigrants who need help and they open their home to help them. This gesture allows the newcomers to get a little boost, save a little money, get their papers straight, and then move out into their own places. It is important to me because my family benefited from someone like that when we first came to the United States; but I also want readers to understand what the immigrant experience is like and to look with kindness at their immigrant neighbors. The little house is scheduled to come out on May 17th.

What else is on the horizon for you? Can you talk about anything else you’re working on?

You’re so sweet to ask, Devyn. I’m working on a lot, but nothing is under contract yet. We just finished edits with our agent on a Pauli Murray picture book which we really like. I also just finished edits with her (I hope) on a book about another Cuban-American girl—Gabby—and her grandmother, but in this case the grandmother is quite different. This grandmother is bossy, and loves to make everyone eat Cuban food even though some of it, admittedly, looks yucky. When the Abuela comes up to Virginia from Miami to live with the family, Gabby, who is trying to fit in at a new school is horrified at how her grandmother just seems to interject herself into Gabby’s life. Also Gabby wants to win a Scottie dog being given away (by application) by the most popular girl in her grade, and Abuela’s pushiness is unwittingly destroying all the chances that Gabby has of winning the little dog. When there is a racist incident, Gabby could keep quiet and keep her chances of getting the pup alive or she can call it out. I think it’s a very, very sweet book, of love and misunderstandings and the power of doing the right thing. I hope a publisher will think the same. 

A second picture book about a “Yes” day with Grandpa is a bittersweet story that I hope will connect with all readers. That has just gone to my agent for the first time.

I am also working on two partially autobiographical books about the last few months before my family left Cuba and the first few months after we got to the United States. This is mostly fictional, but a lot of it is true. It includes the part about my father being jailed. The first one has had many iterations and I am now trying it in verse. My writer’s group likes the way it’s coming out. The second one is only an outline without a proper ending. 

There are always picture books that get worked on when I’m stuck in my longer manuscripts. To be honest, this last year has been very busy with marketing Dominguita and editing the other two books. I have just recently been able to begin writing again and it feels wonderful. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

Devyn, I love the mission of Mutually Inclusive. Thank you including me. It is so important to influence the hearts and minds of young readers, and Mutually Inclusive is doing a wonderful job. It has been a pleasure being here with you. Lots, and lots of hugs to all.


To learn more about Terry and her work, please visit her website at www.terrycjennings.com.

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Author Spotlight: Candice Marley Conner

For today’s Author Spotlight I’m delighted to be chatting with my friend Candice Marley Conner about her latest picture book Chompsey Chomps Books.

Candice, thank you so much for joining us today! I am so excited to share Chompsey Chomps Books with everyone! Before we get started though, would you like to introduce yourself to Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

Hi, Devyn! Thanks so much for having me and Chompsey on Mutually Inclusive. I have learned SO MUCH about diversity and even my own privilege from your blog and am honored to be here. I am a children’s writer, mom of two (one is possibly feral and definitely a velociraptor), living in Alabama. We love being out in nature, especially around water and even better if it’s water in the woods. I’m the kidlit specialist at an indie bookstore, a Local Liaison for SCBWI (how we connected!), and an officer for the local writers’ guild. Pre-pandemic, I was also a Reading Buddy at a local elementary school which is how I found the inspiration for Chompsey.

Thank you! I’m thrilled to hear your a fan of the blog! I’m a pretty big fan of Chompsey Chomps Books, myself. This is your second picture book. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Chompsey is an emotional chomper. He chomps when he’s happy, hungry (yes, I feel this is an emotion AND it gave space for gator fun fact puns) and frustrated. What frustrates him? Reading. And as his friend Beaver points out, books are really hard to come by in a swamp. Chompsey doesn’t understand why book club is so much harder for him than it is for his swamp friends. The letters and words don’t stay on the page like they’re supposed to. Discouraged, Chompsey chomps at the letters as they fly by. He and his friends have to figure out how to make the words stay still and make sense for him. 

Chompsey is such a loveable character. I absolutely adored him, but I have to ask what inspired you to write about the dyslexic experience?

I’m so glad you adored him! He definitely has a soft spot in my heart too. At the time, I had recently read Annie Silvestro’s BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB and was charmed by the idea of a woodland animal book club and the lengths they go to get library access. I wanted to figure out how to put my own spin on a swamp friends’ book club featuring MY favorite animal, an alligator. But I couldn’t figure out a way to make the idea spark shine until one day when I was working with one of my Reading Buddy kids, a first grader whose mom was figuring out he had dyslexia. The mom is a friend of mine (and is also dyslexic herself) so helped me understand what exactly his brain was going through and armed me with many teaching methods to better help him. I was absolutely blown away by his hard work and dedication to learning to read, and by working with him, the idea of a dyslexic alligator who chomped at words was born. They’re who the book is dedicated to.

Title: Chompsey Chomps Books
Author: Candice Marley Conner
Illustrator: Alaina Luise
Publisher: Maclaren-Cochrane Publishing
Published: October 12, 2021
Format: Picture Book

Chompsey’s swamp friends definitely made me a little homesick. All of your work is heavily inspired by the swamp, with both of your picture books featuring Alabama Delta wildlife. What keeps you grounded in that inspiration? 

I grew up in a swamp and visiting nowadays whether through my stories or in real life gives me such a sense of peace and home. Swamps and other wild spaces can be misunderstood places but they’re so incredibly biodiverse. One thing my dyslexic friend pointed out to me while I wrote Chompsey’s manuscript was that you can’t fall in love with something you don’t understand and this has stayed with me. I feel like if I—in my own tiny way—can help people fall in love with swamps, they’ll want to help save natural spaces too. With my YA mystery, I set up a merch shop where proceeds go to the Alabama Rivers Alliance to help protect the state’s 132,000 miles of waterways.

Chompsey Chomps Books is printed in a dyslexic friendly font. Can you tell us a bit about the font and the decision to include an accessible font? Was this something you approached the publisher with, or did they choose that route?

Dyslexie is a weighted font that makes letters easier to distinguish from each other and in turn enables readers to read with less effort to make it more enjoyable and boost self-esteem. This goes for the dyslexic parents who are reading the picture books to their children too. Letter switching happens even in neurotypical children under the age of seven so this font is a win-win for all in my opinion, and the reason I went with MacLaren-Cochran Publishing. While they sadly closed their doors at the end of 2021, all their books were published in this font. I recently saw that Andrea Beaty’s AARON SLATER, ILLUSTRATOR in her Questioneer series is also printed in dyslexie and I’m so excited that more publishers are choosing this route. Honestly, I think all picture books should be accessibly inclusive and printed in dyslexie font.

I always ask this one, but it’s my favorite. If readers only walk away with one lesson from Chomsey Chomps Books, what would you want it to be?

There’s a page in the book that simply has the words “Chompsey didn’t give up” and that’s a lesson I’d love for readers to take away. Don’t give up. If it’s your dream to eat crawfish pie and snuggle up with a book with your swamp friends, don’t stop trying just because it’s hard. See it as a challenge. Approach it from a new perspective. There are so many ways to learn, don’t box yourself in.

You are also published in the young adult category, with your novel The Existence of Bea Pearl. Which do you find more challenging to write, picture books or novels?

Oof, this is a tough question! I’d say Bea Pearl was more challenging since the book is a mystery and because I originally wrote her as an unreliable narrator with a non-chronological timeline. I had to completely rewrite the manuscript which was daunting to say the least but I’m pretty determined and persistent like Chompsey. Though with a YA, I don’t have to agonize over the perfectly precise words like picture books demand and have room for setting which is my favorite literary element. Luckily, the publisher paired me with Alaina Luise as illustrator and she perfectly captured my swampish vision for Chompsey and his friends.

What a whirlwind 2021 must have been for you! You had a double debut year with your first picture book, and your first YA, and then you also published Chompsey Chomps Books! What would you say was the biggest lesson you learned as a debut author?

Yes! It was the best kind of bananas! Biggest lesson I learned as a debut author was to just do the things (promo- and marketing-wise) I was comfortable with and that I don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS, lol. At one point I said no to an event that was stressing me out and when I told my then ten-year-old about my decision, her immediate response was that she was proud of me. “Saying no was really hard for you.” My decision and her understanding of what I was experiencing and being in my corner was a balm to my mental health.

What’s next for you? Do you have any more releases on the horizon for 2022?

More swamp stuff, haha. My current work-in-progress is a spooky ecological middle grade set in the Delta that I’m having the best time writing. My agent has a Selkie-like manatee middle grade, a witchy STEAM picture book, and a STEAM chapter book series out on submission, so while I don’t currently have any releases on the horizon, I’m optimistic for that to change!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

Mainly a thank you that there are readers and places like this blog making and demanding space for inclusive and diverse picture books. Books are so powerful. I’d love it if each and every child out there not only sees themselves on the bookshelf, but also that children (and their adult readers) learn to see things from a different perspective, and have compassion and understanding for those different from them.


To learn more about Candice and her work be sure to visit her website at candicemarleyconner.com.

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Author Spotlight: Adria Karlsson

It’s time for another Author Spotlight! I’m thrilled to be chatting with Adria Karlsson today about her debut picture book, My Sister, Daisy.

Hi Adria, I want to thank you so much for joining me today! Before we dive in, would you like to introduce yourself to Mutually Inclusive’s Readers?

Hi Devyn! Thanks so much for creating such an inviting corner of the internet – I’m honored to be included here. I’m a picture book and middle grade author and live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I have five kids – ages 3, 5, 7, 9, and 10 – who read all kinds of books and keep me on my toes! Before writing My Sister, Daisy, I had many different jobs – I was a content editor for a journal, a tutor for dyslexic kids, a teacher, and a dog and cat behavior consultant.


Your debut, My Sister, Daisy, is such a beautiful story of understanding and acceptance. What inspired you to write this book?


This book was inspired by my own kids’ questions and responses when one of them let us know she was trans. Like Daisy’s parents, we were 100% supportive of our daughter, but unlike Daisy’s parents, we didn’t have all the right words to help our other kids understand.
When we went looking, the few books we found were from the trans-child’s perspective – a story that 100% needs to be told by trans-authors, centered, and celebrated! – but not exactly what we needed for the other kids. On top of that, so many siblings were portrayed as unsupportive and the trans-child almost always experienced bullying. We didn’t want those stories to become our story – we wanted a book that modeled support with curiosity and a child’s normal range of emotions when it comes to change.

Daisy and her family are such a delight! I love how much love and support Daisy’s family gives her, including her brother. Are the characters themselves based off of your family at all?


We have a trans child and she has an older brother who is close in age… but the relationship between Daisy and her brother, the immediate clarity with which the parents understand what Daisy is sharing, and the mixed-race portrayal of the family are all different than our story. The book is definitely semi-autobiographical, not fully so! Some words are directly taken from things my children said, but the timeline is all jumbled up. It’s funny, though… When the book came out, the teacher at my kids’ school who runs the Rainbow Kids lunch immediately texted me. She was so happy to be in the book! When I told her that I couldn’t claim credit for that one – the picture of her, and even her inclusion in the story, were Linus’s idea – she told me that didn’t really change anything, she knew it was her. :p

Title: My Sister, Daisy
Author: Adria Karlsson
Illustrator: Linus Curci
Publisher: Capstone
Published: September 1, 2020
Format: Picture Book

I know it can be extremely rewarding, but challenging to write something you’re so personally connected with. What was the biggest hurdle, and the biggest celebration, of writing My Sister, Daisy?


The biggest hurdle was probably deciding whether or not to publish it. I was worried my daughter or her siblings would feel like from now on they would have to maintain the genders that were portrayed in the book or feel outed by the story. We had a lot of conversations about both of those things and the reality is that the book is about acceptance. It’s about listening to our kids! Whether it’s gender or something else, so my kids are clear on the idea they can still change and grow. As for the second issue, she’s young to have made the decision to allow this story and my author’s note to go out into the world and I can only hope that she is still as proud of who she is and what this book is doing in the world when she’s older. Right now, she’s thrilled, and for all of us it feels like a risk we could take since we carry so many other privileges.
The biggest celebration? When my oldest two kids teared up when they first read this book. They are so stinkin’ proud of it and that, to me, is worth a lot when it is such a personal connection.

And how do your kids feel about inspiring My Sister, Daisy? I would imagine they are so proud of you for creating the book your family needed.


I think I’ve already answered this one, but to ensure the message isn’t lost – they are so, so proud. I got bookmarks made for handing out at events and when my kids spotted them, all five of them insisted on bringing them into school to give to alllll the kids in their classes. Definitely NOT my idea, but hey… I guess it was good publicity!

If young readers only learn one thing from My Sister, Daisy, what message would you most like them to take away?


This is what acceptance looks like. When we love someone and they feel safe enough to share something this big with us, it’s our privilege to accept that knowledge, love them for it, and listen.

As a parent of a transgender child, do you have any advice or resources you would offer to parents who want to support their own children through their own journey of gender identity and expression?


There are amazing books out there written by transgender authors that speak to their own experiences. In particular, I love the picture books My Rainbow by Trinity and DeShanna Neal, and When Aiden Became a Brother and Call Me Max (and its two sequels) by Kyle Lukoff. For those that are working to understand gender identity, expression, and assigned sex at birth the book It Feels Good to Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn is excellent. Greater Boston PFLAG has been an invaluable resource to us as well. I don’t consider this only a conversation for parents of gender non-conforming or transgender children, either – I hope every kid is exposed to this information early and often so they have the language to discuss and discover their own way forward.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?


Hopefully more picture books! I have some on submission, some I’m drafting and revising, and new ideas all the time. I also have a middle grade novel that’s going through its third revision – so hopefully that will eventually see the light of day. For now, I’ve been catching up and learning how to be a debut author and balance the rest of my life!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s Readers?


I’m a member of a group of new kidlit authors and they’ve come out with some amazing books this year! They can all be found at http://www.newbooksforkids.com. Finding a group of people to support me at each step of my new life as an author has been truly invaluable and I’m deeply appreciative of each and every person that has seen My Sister, Daisy along on its journey.

You can learn more about Adria and her work at her website https://www.adriakarlsson.com or by following her on Twitter @AdriaKarlsson and Instagram @adriakarlson.

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Author Spotlight: Susan Hughes

It’s been a while, but its time for another Author Spotlight! Today we are talking to Susan Hughes about her book Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality, so let’s dive right in!

Susan, Thank you so much for joining me today! I am so excited to chat with you about Walking for Water, but I’d like to start with a little more about you. Would you mind introducing yourself to Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

It’s great to speak with you today, Devyn! I’m a Toronto-based writer of many traditionally published children’s books, from picture books to YA novels—and everything in between! I’m an editor, story coach, and consultant specializing in assisting clients and publishers with children’s stories and educational products. I also write commissioned pieces. 

Oh, and I like to run, hang out with my family and friends, and write and read books, lots of ‘em!

Walking for Water is one of your most recent releases, could you tell us a bit more about this book?

Sure! Here’s how Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality is described on the publisher’s website: 

“In this inspiring story of individual activism, a boy recognizes gender inequality when his sister must stop attending school — and decides to do something about it. 

Victor is very close to his twin sister, Linesi. But now that they have turned eight years old, she no longer goes to school with him. Instead, Linesi, like the other older girls in their community, walks to the river to get water five times a day, to give their mother more time for farming. Victor knows this is the way it has always been. 

But he has begun learning about equality at school, and his teacher has asked the class to consider whether boys and girls are treated equally. Though he never thought about it before, Victor realizes they’re not. And it’s not fair to his sister. So Victor comes up with a plan to help.”

I’m especially pleased that the publisher, Kids Can, included Walking for Water in its  wonderful Citizen Kid series, for children ages 7 to 12. The books in the collection are aimed at making complex global issues accessible to kids and inspiring them to be better global citizens. 

Title: Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality
Author: Susan Hughes
Illustrator: Nicole Miles
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Published: June 1, 2021
Format: Picture Book

Obviously Victor’s story is very inspiring, so I understand why you were inspired to write about him! Can you tell us about how you came to hear about Victor’s story, and how that inspiration struck you?

I was doing online research for another project when I happened across a powerful photo essay. The photos were by Esther Havens and the caption-like text was written by a journalist, Tyler Riewer. As soon as I read about this young boy in Malawi’s experience—the dawning understanding that it wasn’t fair his sister had to give up school and then his decision to take action—I knew kids would be affected by the story. The photo-essay would likely only be seen by adults. I wanted to write it as a picture book story so kids would have a chance to learn about this boy’s courage and commitment to change. 

What was the research process like for this book? Did you get to travel to Malawi or meet Victor in your research?

No, I wasn’t able to do either, however in order to ensure the story was as authentic as possible, I reached out for help to many people. For example, I connected with journalist Tyler Riewer who generously answered as many as my questions as he could about his experience meeting with, and talking to, “Victor” in his village.

Malawian-born journalist Victoria Maele read and authenticated several drafts of my manuscript and answered many questions about content details. Malawian professor Lucinda Manda-Taylor read the final manuscript and reviewed the illustrations, focusing on ensuring the visuals accurately reflected life in a village in this specific part of Malawi. Wherever they found mistakes or discrepancies in the story or illustrations, we changed these details. 

Professor Sam McChombo, an expert in the Malawian language Chichewa, checked to make sure my usage of Chichewa words in the story was accurate and helped create the book’s pronunciation guide.

You have written over 30 books, which is such an amazing accomplishment! Do you have a favorite amongst them all?

Oh, I’m giggling! This is a question kids often ask me when I do book talks and presentations—and I think I give a different answer every time.

It’s really difficult to choose but usually my favorite is my most recently published book! 

You write both fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a preference for one over the other?

No, I don’t. I very much like alternating between the two, even during the researching and writing process. After working on a story for a while, it can be refreshing to turn to a nonfiction project and, for example, do some research or editing of facts. Or to turn from a non-fiction project to a story, going from a more fact-based narrative to one which allows my imagination to fly freely in different spaces. 

What can we expect from you next? Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

Yes, I have two new books hitting the shelves next year, both with Owl Kids Books. 

Coming out in April is a 64-page informational picture book: Same Here: The Differences We Share, illustrated by Sophie Casson. The book explores how kids around the world live and the common needs that unit them.

And my fall book is a rhyming picture book Hooray for Trucks! which is being illustrated by Suharu Ogawa.

Is there anything else you’d like for Mutually Inclusive’s readers to know?

Oh, yes! Some exciting news! Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality has been nominated for the 2022 Ontario Library Association’s Silver Birch Express Award. The best part is knowing kids across the province will be reading my book and the others on the list and then getting the chance to vote on their favorite ones in the spring. Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more about these “Forest of Reading” awards: https://forestofreading.com/program-for-kids/.

Susan, thank you again for joining us today. It has been such a treat chatting with you!

To learn more about Susan and her work, please visit her online at susanhughes.ca.

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Author Spotlight: Mollie Elkman

On Today’s Author Spotlight we are chatting with Mollie Elkman about her debut, The House That She Built – an empowering picture book that educates young readers about the people and skills that go into building a home.

Mollie, thank you so much for making this interview possible! I am thrilled to chat with you about The House That She Built, but before we dive in, would you like to introduce yourself?

Hi! I’m Mollie Elkman. Mom to Zachary (10) and Zoey (4). I own group two, a marketing company for home builders.

The House That She Built is your first picture book. What inspired you to write the book?

One of my favorite builders (Kristi Allen) who has become a close friend of mine asked us to help do the marketing for an ambitious project she was part of. An all-women-built home.

Being exposed to over 100 women in building throughout the project and learning about their different stories and paths into careers in construction was incredibly inspiring. These women are amazing and have great careers, yet most people don’t think of women when they think of construction jobs. 

Title: The House That She Built
Author: Mollie Elkman
Illustrator: Georgia Castellano
Publisher: Builder Books
Published: September 14, 2021
Format: Picture Book

Some people may wonder, “Why do we need a home built entirely by women?”. How do you answer those types of questions and help folks understand the importance of the project?

Right now there is a skilled labor shortage, which is only projected to get worse. With less than 3% of construction jobs being filled by women, it’s really important to show that women are completely capable of having very successful careers in construction. We want all underrepresented communities to know there are many different opportunities and paths to success. 

What was the research process like for The House That She Built? Did your experience as a second-generation business owner in housing help you along with the research?

So many women like myself were brought into the housing industry by a father or grandfather. We would love to help break that cycle by making more women aware of these career opportunities. One of the most moving experiences for me while working on the book was being in the garage of the project that inspired the book. The walls were filled with pictures of all the women who had worked on the home during all stages of the build. Most of these women are used to being the only woman on the average jobsite, so this project was really special because it emphasized that not only are they not alone, but there is room for so many more!

I love the way The House That She Built highlights the variety of skilled jobs needed to build a home. Even as an adult, I never really thought about how many people are involved in building a home. Are the 18 jobs found in the book the original lineup, or did you have to narrow down from a larger scope?

Ah I love this question! No one has asked this yet. We absolutely had to narrow it down and there are many additional careers that are important and necessary. We tried to focus on the logical order of jobs from the planning stage all the way to the final touches to show the progression. There are so many other roles happening at the same time, though like installing the windows and doors! The intent was to get kids thinking about the space around them and the different skills and people that went into creating that space. 

I know that Georgia Castellano, the illustrator, is the creative director at your company, Group Two. Did you two work closely throughout the illustration process?

We did! Not just through the illustration process but really the entire process of marketing and publishing. Georgia is extremely talented and we work really well together. Beyond that, we are friends which made this experience really fun. 

Do you have a favorite spread? If so, which one?

I would say my favorite is the General Contractor because she is based on Kristi Allen who I mentioned before. I feel like she gave me this amazing gift by bringing me into the project she was working on and it makes me happy to see the cartoon version of her represented in the book. 

Is there possibly another book in your future?

Next up, we will have an activity book to go along with the book. It’s incredible and I can’t wait to share it. From there, I really want to develop some curriculum for schools that highlight the different skills in the book. There has been a real emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) and this book fits really well into the conversation. 

Is there anything else you’d like for Mutually Inclusive’s Readers to know?

Yes! This is a mission based initiative so all proceeds support workforce development initiatives in the homebuilding industry. 

I would love to offer your readers a coloring page to download and print! It’s really fun to see how different kids can take the same image and create a completely unique finished piece. 

That is so generous! Thank you so much for that surprise, and for joining us today to talk about The House That She Built.

You can learn more about Mollie and her work by visiting her website, grouptwo.com. For more information about The House That She Built please visit shebuiltbook.com or @shebuiltbook on Instagram.

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Author Spotlight: Rajani LaRocca

It’s time for an Author Spotlight again, and I am so excited to be interviewing Rajani LaRocca, the brilliant and prolific author who is taking the kidlit world by storm. Rajani has published six books since her debut in 2019 in both middle grade and picture book categories.

Rajani, I am thrilled to be chatting with you today! I was originally introduced to your writing when I reviewed Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers, but you have so many other titles! Would you mind introducing yourself to Mutually Inclusive’s readers and tell us a bit about the kinds of books you write?

Thanks so much for having me! I was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now live in the Boston area, where I practice medicine and write books for young readers. I’ve always been an omnivorous reader, and now I’m an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, in poetry and prose. I’m inspired by my childhood and background, science and math, nature, cooking, and just about everything I see. 

Your latest picture book, Where Three Oceans Meet, is being released this month. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?

Where Three Oceans Meet is about a little girl named Sejal who travels to the tip of India — Kanyakumari, where they say three oceans meet — with her mom and grandmother. It’s a fun road trip, where the three women see interesting sights, visit people they care about, and eat delicious food. And Sejal discovers what’s at the “end of the earth” is what she’s had all along: the love between mothers and daughters, love that transcends distance and transcends time.

What inspired you to write Where Three Oceans Meet?

I was inspired by a trip I took when I was a kid with my family, including my mom and grandmother, through South India to Kanyakumari. I thought about all the beautiful things we saw on that trip, and how what I treasured most was the little moments we spent together along the way.

If young readers only take away one thing from Where Three Oceans Meet, what message would you most want them to walk away with?

Even if they are far away, the people we love are still with us, giving us strength and joy.

Title: Where Three Oceans Meet
Author: Rajani LaRocca
Illustrator: Archana Sreenivasan
Publisher: Abrams Books For Young Readers
Published: August 24, 2021
Format: Picture Book

All of your books seem to have mathematical themes, and I was so glad to see the pattern continue with the theme of three in Where Three Oceans Meet. Was there any significance to the number three, or was it a stylistic choice?

I hadn’t really thought about the fact that there was a number in this book, but now that you point it out, of course there is! Three is an important number which symbolizes unity in many cultures. Because this book was inspired by a trip to Kanyakumari, where three oceans meet — The Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean — I decided to craft the story about three women in a family making a journey together. I also use the metaphor of a braid, which involves three strands of hair woven together, to symbolize the characters’ relationships. 

Archana Sreenivasan created such beautiful illustrations to match your gorgeous story of love and family. This is your second book to be illustrated by Archana. Did the process differ between Where Three Oceans Meet and Seven Golden Rings?

I first worked with Archana for my debut picture book, Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math, which was published by Lee & Low Books in October 2020. That book is set in ancient India and involves a math puzzle and an explanation of binary numbers in the author’s note. It won the Mathical Award for Grade 3-5!

The process was very similar for both books in that I had minimal involvement while Archana was doing her work! Archana is such an incredible artist, and her sensibility for each book was perfect—which is even more impressive, since the styles of these books are very different. In Seven Golden Rings, her style is more cartoon-like, and Archana illustrated the math puzzle and the thinking that went into it in the most precise and ingenious way! The writing in Where Three Oceans Meet is more lyrical and emotional, and Archana’s style and use of color matches  perfectly. I know that Oceans reminded her of her own family—especially her grandmother—and this shines through in all the little details she included to make this family seem real.  

Do you have a standout spread that is your favorite? If so, which one?

I love ALL the spreads—they are overflowing with love and joy! My favorite is about three fourths of the way through the book, when Sejal isn’t feeling well and overhears her mom and grandmother talking about how much they miss each other, since the grandmother lives in India and Sejal and her mom live in the U.S. Archana depicts memories and longing and love so beautifully on the page that it brings me to tears.

Where Three Oceans Meet is your fifth release in 2021! I’m blown away at the amount of work you can produce in a year, especially considering your job as a doctor and role as a wife and mother. Do you have any advice for writers (like myself) who struggle to keep producing new work consistently?

I always recommend that people find ways to write in the “nooks and crannies” of their days. We don’t need to write for hours at a time; sometimes writing for a few minutes is all we can do, and that’s fine! As a working mom, I have written in my car (while parked!) and at piano lessons, early in the morning and late at night, on my laptop, scrawled on napkins, and dictated into my phone. It’s important to catch the muse while you can and to put in the time even when the muse is in hiding! 

I also find that setting small goals helps me, as well as making lists of current projects and their statuses.

Can you tell us what is next for you? Do you have any upcoming 2022 release we should know about?

After Where Three Oceans Meet, I have two more picture books coming in 2021! My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris will release on August 31, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have written a Little Golden Book about our wonderful Vice President!

The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA releases September 14! This is my first nonfiction picture book (and the first picture book I ever drafted!), written in rhyming verse and explaining the basics of genetics to kids. It also touches on the limits of our genes and how our actions also determine who we are.

In March 2022, I have a picture book coming with Candlewick called I’ll Go and Come Back. This story of my heart is about a girl who visits her family in India and feels lonely and homesick. Then her grandmother makes her feel better through play and reading and food. When the grandmother visits the girl in the U.S. and feels homesick herself, her granddaughter makes her feel better. The story is built around a phrase people use in Tamil: they never say “goodbye,” but instead “I’ll go and come back,” which holds the promise of return.

My second middle grade novel with HarperCollins comes out in fall 2022. It’s called Switch, and it’s about musical twin sisters who grow apart, impersonate each other at their summer camp on a dare, and find that music helps them find their way back to each other. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

These past two years have been so hard for so many reasons. That makes the stories we tell, the art we create, more important than ever. But it’s also important that we practice self-care and give ourselves a break, too. Take the time to bring yourself small moments of joy, and remember that reading and thinking and spending time with loved ones nourishes the creative spirit. 

That is such a great reminder, and one I really need to hear. Thank you for that, and for taking the time to answer all my questions!


To learn more about Rajani and her work, you can visit her online at www.RajaniLaRocca.com and on Twitter @rajanilarocca and Instagram @rajanilarocca.

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Author Spotlight: Helen Rutter

I’m thrilled to have the privilege of interviewing Helen Rutter today for our latest Author Spotlight! Helen is a playwright, actor, and author of The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh, which is releasing here in the States next week. She lives in the UK with her comedian husband, two children, and two dogs. You can find her online at helenrutter.com.

Thank you so much for joining me for this interview, Helen! To get us started, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh?

Hello! Thank you so much for having me! My name is Helen Rutter and THE BOY WHO MADE EVERYONE LAUGH is about eleven-year-old Billy Plimpton. He loves jokes and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian but, because of his stutter, doesn’t think it’s possible.

What inspired you to write The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh? 

The book was inspired by my son Lenny who stutters, I wanted to write a book starring a character like him. We had never read anything about someone who stutters before and so I thought it was a story that needed to be written, at that point I had no idea if it would be published!

Billy Plimpton is such a delightful main character. He’s funny, kind, and lovable, even when you want to tell him he’s making a mistake. Is Billy based on your son at all? If so, how has he reacted to the success of the book, and the way people tend to adore Billy?

I am so happy that people seem to love Billy as much as I do. He very much started out being heavily based on Lenny but, as time went on and the editing continued, Billy’s personality developed and grew further away from Lenny’s and he became his own unique character. There is still a lot of cross over, both Billy and Lenny love playing the drums, are great at maths and have a similar love of lists, facts, and detail! Lenny has been so chuffed with the success of the book and has even done TV interviews over here in the UK to celebrate its launch!

It must be hard, but extremely rewarding to write a story that you’re so personally connected to. What was the most challenging part to write? And which part was the most fun?

I loved writing this story so much, it helped me to understand Lenny a bit more and reading it out to him every bedtime was a real bonding experience. I think the thing that was the most challenging to write was the Granny Bread strand as that felt particularly emotive as my mum is now 82 and the character was firmly based on her. The most joyful scene was the talent show. As I wrote that scene I could almost hear the music swelling in the background and could totally imagine every second of it. I wanted to get up and cheer for Billy after writing that scene!

Title: The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh
Author: Helen Rutter
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: August 3, 2021
Format: Hardcover



The supporting cast is made up of several other children in Billy’s school who are all finding their way in life with their own individual “issues”. I love that this cast really illustrates how we all have something that makes us “different”, and that there really is no “normal”. Was this a point you wanted to highlight from the beginning or did it come to you through writing the book?

Absolutely! I think that everyone feels different in some way, whether it is something that the world can see or something that’s hidden away. The characters all deal with their situations in a unique way and ultimately all of them are more empathetic because of what they are going through. From the start I wanted his friends and the supporting cast to be a celebration of uniqueness and a starting point for conversations about empathy.

If you could spend the day with one character from The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh who would you choose, and how would you spend the day?

That is a tough question! I guess I’m not allowed to have a board game-based party with all of them?! If not then I will go for taking Mr Osho to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club… I would LOVE that! Ask me tomorrow though and I may choose drawing with Skyla… No, snorkeling with Granny Bread… No, cheerleading with Chloe… No, watching stand up with Billy. IT’S TOO HARD!!

Not to spoil anything, but I absolutely loved that Billy finds a happy ending without compromising himself or making any dramatic changes. I love that he simply learns he was good enough all along. As a parent of a child with a stutter, what advice would you give to parents hoping to help their child find the confidence in themselves that Billy finds?

Gosh every journey is so personal. What has helped us may not mean much to anyone else but I guess looking back at our journey with a bit of perspective I would tell my former self that, as with most things in life, stutters and the emotions that are attached to them are forever changing so don’t cling onto one idea of how it is or how it feels.

I hear that you’re working on another novel now. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yes! It’s a story about a boy called Archie Crumb whose wishes start coming true and he doesn’t know if it is all just a crazy coincidence or whether maybe he has a bit more power over his life than he first thought. It’s a story about positive thinking, self-belief and hope.

Do you have any plans to revisit Billy Plimpton’s story or maybe any of the other children in Bannerdale?

I would LOVE to revisit Billy and everyone at Bannerdale. Watch this space!!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s Readers?

I am doing a virtual launch of the book on Tues Aug 3rd @ 5pm EST where Gordon Korman will chat all things writing, reading, and Billy Plimpton with me! You can sign up to join us both here: https://www.rjjulia.com/event/virtual-helen-rutter-boy-who-made-everyone-laugh-gordon-korman-linked

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